Many of us have had a different way of working sprung on us very quickly due to the current pandemic. Working remotely means having to adjust how we work both independently and as a team. Working from home made me realise how much interaction and regular communication I had with my colleagues during the typical working day, which I think we take for granted. So, when work suddenly becomes remote and we not surrounded by our colleagues, we must adjust.
Working remotely changes interpersonal dynamics
Loss of conversation
Working from home means missing out on the general conversation which takes place in the office. These conversations connect us with our colleagues and help us to bond with each other. When working remotely our options are limited for conversation. Calling a colleague to simply ask how their evening was, or to compare notes on a reality TV show you are both watching, doesn’t seem appropriate. Without the visual cues we usually have such as eye contact and body language, it is hard to know if it is a convenient time for conversation to take place.
Virtual communication changes interpersonal communication
We only get 7% via words (e.g. Email), 38% voice and tone (e.g phone call) and 55% body language (e.g. in person). Video calls are a great way of staying connected with colleagues and provide more visual cues than voice calls. However, we are limited to see only what is framed by the camera and many people are still getting to grips with video call etiquette. Video calls with poor etiquette can lead to individuals being spoken over, visual cues being missed and if they are too frequent, or long it can be quite draining.
When working from home we are not able to ask that quick question at a well-timed moment. Therefore, many resort to firing off multiple emails containing quick questions and overthought streams of consciousness. This can be overwhelming for managers, especially when they are sent to multiple recipients who then reply all! Soon enough getting through your inbox seems to feel like an endless task. Tone can easily be misread in emails at the best of times, but when a manager fires off a quick response to get through an overflowing inbox, niceties can be easily forgotten. A manager’s quick response, or lack of response could easily be perceived as blunt, abrupt or even frustration directed towards their colleague.
Does your supervisor or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
It is always important to check in with your colleagues, especially at this time as everyone will be dealing with the situation differently and having good and bad days! Remember to consider what ‘hats’ they are wearing… for example childcare, career and generally coping with the change to lifestyle. Keep up the communication and the ‘how are you’s?’ Make sure it shows that you care about them, not just work!
Treat others how they would like to be treated – it is not a one size fits all. Everyone will respond differently to lockdown e.g. extroverts may really struggle working at home, while introverts may find the adjustment easier. Take the time to get to know your team and their working preferences so that you can get the best out of them. Ensure you have individual connection with team members as well as group. Keep up a balance of informal and formal conversations. Remember to choose your tool to communicate based on the subject and the audience. Everyone’s preferences differ; make sure they are comfortable with the tool you choose.
Create virtual conversation
Whatsapp groups are a great way to stay in touch with colleagues that you are close to. Checking in with each other in a whatsapp group can keep you connected to the colleagues that you have formed friendships with. Group chats are a great way to stay connected as a team, but remember everyone responds differently – some may feel they don’t need to respond.
Teams/Slack/Google Hangouts are useful for general workplace chat. They have a more of a professional feel to them. This is a great way to ask a quick question or get a second opinion on something “can anyone direct me to the most recent quarterly report” “has anyone heard from Jo recently? I have been trying to reach them”.
Virtual socials video calls are not just for meetings they are also great for connecting with the team on a social level. Some companies use video calls to wish a colleague a happy birthday with a virtual tea party, others use them to connect with freelancers who they usually work with. To start with it can feel uncomfortable to connect with a scheduled social but after a short time and possibly an ice breaker people usually feel comfortable to converse and connect with one another. This creates a sense of community and reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation for those working remotely.
Video call etiquette
Video calls are helpful for collaborative meetings and team catch ups. Functions like screen sharing, break out rooms, comments boxes and raising hand and thumbs up icons to help you run an effective meeting and get immediate verbal and visual responses from those present. In the absence of face to face it is the next best thing, so be brave and use it!
Some helpful video call tips
- Look into the camera as much as possible and not at the person’s picture on the screen
- Choose a well-lit space ideally with the daylight in front of you
- Look carefully at what is in the ‘frame’ of the camera and edit accordingly! Elevate the camera in line with you eyeline if possible.
- Mute and camera off on entry into session
- Re-name your device to reflect your profile name so you don’t appear as ‘IPAD’ throughout a call.
- Turn off notifications on other applications to avoid interruption. E.g. On Mac setting – notifications there is a “do not disturb” option that you should select. Do the same on any other nearby devices (e.g. note on the door for any unexpected visitors/deliveries during that time).
- To avoid interruption make other people in your home aware of the call taking place and try to position yourself in a quiet spot.
- Check your tech
- Minimum internet connection of 1.5 MBPS (ideally 3MB) upload and download. You can check this using: https://www.speedtest.net/
- Position yourself as close to the router as possible.
- Restarting router is a quick fix to lots of problems so it is worth restarting your router an hour before an important zoom session.
- Make sure your laptop plugged into a power source.
Make sure your expectation and direction are clear
There is more opportunity for misunderstanding when communicating virtually due to the absence of tone of voice, body language and facial expression. Make sure you are clear about what you are communicating. When briefing make sure you are clear about deadlines, expected amount of time the task will take. Check in part way through the process to see what progress is being made and offer to problem solve any issues together. Give regular feedback and ask for feedback on your leadership skills. Consider using SMART Goals to line manage your remote team.
Promote self-care to your team but remember to lead by example. Make sure you balance your priorities and accept you can’t do it all!! Most of all, be kind to yourself!
Communication is key!
Use a range of communication tools appropriate to the situation and people. Find alternatives ways to have conversations with your colleagues so you have a good understanding of the individuals in your team. Use SMART goals to keep your team motivated and focused. Create a culture of constructive feedback so that you can adapt and problem solve before a problem becomes too big to manage. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself and others in these difficult times.